Still difficult to comprehend the goings-on in Baton Rouge. To recap: A school that is paying Les Miles $10 million not to coach football will pay Ed Orgeron $3 million a year to coach. Miles had a 62-28 SEC record at LSU. Orgeron had a 3-21 SEC record at Ole Miss.
Obviously, LSU believes Orgeron has grown and matured as a coach over the last decade. LSU is not alone. Respected college football writer Bruce Feldman tweeted: “Happy for Ed Orgeron … never met anyone who works harder. He’s a lot more than just a great recruiter. He’s evolved so much since OM and USC.”
He better have. His tenure at Ole Miss was like a bad sitcom, from his opening team meeting and his famously ripped-off shirt, to his scrimmaging his team during a weather delay, to the decision that cost him the 2007 Egg Bowl and his job. At Ole Miss, Coach O pretty much became a parody of himself.
His last Ole Miss team was 0-7 in the SEC going into the Egg Bowl on Nov. 23, 2007. Remember? The Egg Bowl was played on that Friday at Starkville. A couple of days earlier I had written a column in The Clarion-Ledger saying it was time for a change at Ole Miss. That Orgeron, completing the third year of a four-year contract, clearly wasn’t getting the job done.
I could have based that opinion strictly on his record. Ole Miss had won one game in three seasons against a team that finished with a winning record. Listen: Those Rebels ranked last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, turnover margin, rushing defense, total defense, time of possession, red zone offense and kickoff coverage. They were 11th of 12 teams in rushing offense, passing efficiency, first downs, field goals and allowing third down conversions. They were the only team in the league without an SEC victory.
But there was so much more. There never seemed any rhyme or reason to his decision making, on or off the field. It was as if he made decisions by flipping a coin or reading tea leaves.
Of all the columns I ever wrote for the Jackson newspaper, that one about Orgeron touched the biggest nerve. My email blew up. My office phone rang incessantly. Rebel fans, amazingly, were sharply divided on the issue. Some thanked me for the column. Others hoped I would die a slow, agonizing death.
So of course Ole Miss dominated Sylvester Croom’s team the first 50 minutes of playing time and led 14-0 with 10 minutes remaining. In the press box, I was still getting email from Ole Miss fans decrying my column earlier in the week.
And then it happened. Facing fourth and one at midfield and leading 14-0, Orgeron left his offense on the field. A Liberty Bowl official confided, “He’s just going to try to pull them offsides.”
“Maybe, but with Ed, you never know …” I replied, and then Ole Miss snapped the ball and was stuffed, effectively giving State a chance.
You know what happened next. The State crowd, virtually silent until that moment, went crazy. State rallied and won the game 17-14.
I asked Croom afterward what he thought when Ole Miss lined up to go for it on fourth and one. Replied Croom, “I thought Christmas had come early.”
By the time I got back to the press box, my email was blowing up again. This time, many of the emails were from Ole Miss fans apologizing for earlier emails. You couldn’t make it up.
Ole Miss officials had gone into that game with a decision to make. Orgeron made it for them.
Read all of Rick Cleveland’s Sports Daily blog posts.